I got up to speed with the series before Season 2 began, during the Season 1 marathon that aired beforehand. Season 1 was excellent. Season 2 has been brilliant.
While the theme of humanity being tested via zombie apocalypse is nothing new, The Walking Dead has taken it to a whole new level. Tonight's episode, "When the Dead Come Knocking," explores that theme in a way that surpasses even the most meaningful of previous episodes. Humankind is no longer divided by race or religion, but rather vicinity, mirroring the xenophobia of times past, and even the dividing lines of historical events such as the U.S. Civil War. Brothers find themselves at arms against one another--any and all who are not deemed a part of one's core group are by default enemies.
The common theme--man fights against monster, but in the process becomes the monster himself--is best exemplified by the "experiment" in Woodbury in which a "volunteer" dying of cancer is allowed to die and turn, just to prove whether or not anything of his living personality remains upon reanimation. The markers are pictures of beloved family members, and his task is to try to ground himself with their memory once the monster takes over. Of course, family becomes meaningless once he joins the ranks of the walking dead, just as all previous attachments and loyalties crumble for the living during the process of post-apocalyptic survival. The unnecessary rivalry that develops between Woodbury and those living in the prison reflects the manufactured rivalries we all create: differences in faith, country, and even favorite sports teams divide people in significant ways.
Based on a well executed graphic novel series, The Walking Dead television series works on multiple levels, using theme, characterization, and tone to make a point about the world as it has stood in the past and how it stands today. It is a warning of a divided future, told in a way only great literature and thoughtful adaptations of such can portray.
For those who have not seen the series, here is the Season 2 trailer: